Experienced entrepreneurs to advise Innovation Campus on graduate student programming
The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus wants to empower student entrepreneurs. As its new faculty moves ahead with curriculum development, aiming for 2024 completion, they are creating a completely new entrepreneurship track for master’s students who want to enrich their tech skills with business acumen.
What’s the best way to incorporate a business mindset into the new curriculum? Ask the experts.
A new Entrepreneurship Task Force is providing feedback on the curriculum design of a graduate-level Entrepreneurship Program track as part of the Innovation Campus Master of Engineering program. The task force is led by Professor Angelos Stavrou – a successful entrepreneur himself – and is comprised of entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., region.
“This initiative is extraordinarily important for the Innovation Campus,” said Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus. “We need the wisdom of the business community in order to fully build out the Innovation Campus. An entrepreneurship track adds a dimension that is at the heart and soul of what we want to be: a place where new ideas can flourish, especially from the minds of our students and faculty.”
The eight task force members bring vast experience in data privacy, consulting, technology investment and advisory, defense, and data science and analytics at organizations such as Sourcepoint, the Department of Defense, and APEX Systems.
Stavrou, entrepreneurship faculty lead for the Innovation Campus, is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the founder of Kryptowire (now Quokka), a leader in cloud-based mobile security and privacy solutions. He has spent years working at the intersection of engineering and entrepreneurship.
“I’m extremely interested in student development and how the Innovation Campus can help students become entrepreneurs,” Stavrou said. “Teaching students how to think for themselves and bring their ideas forward is key. I want to bring business skills to technologists who have the perseverance to move an idea from infancy to market. And, importantly, we need to teach our students that it is OK to fail and that the entrepreneurial journey has ups and downs. This is a quality that isn’t being taught in engineering schools.”
The first meeting of the task force was held in a hybrid format Nov. 30 at the Innovation Campus headquarters in Alexandria. The group discussed Innovation Campus curriculum, long-term goals of the task force, and incorporating future Innovation Campus alumni into the mix.
“I feel like there is opportunity space for this region to lean into what makes it special,” said Gregory Coleman, an entrepreneur and retired Air Force colonel, in discussing the Innovation Campus entrepreneurship track. “There is opportunity for corporate sponsors in this region that some other regions don’t have. How do we use proximity in this region to create our own ecosystem?”
In particular, the participants discussed the importance of exposing Master of Engineering students to entrepreneurial thinking.
“This initiative is extraordinarily important for the Innovation Campus. An entrepreneurship track adds a dimension that is at the heart and soul of what we want to be: a place where new ideas can flourish, especially from the minds of our students and faculty.”
-Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus
The Innovation Campus Master of Engineering program is focused on either computer science or computer engineering and can be completed within one year. The task force work shop focused on how to incorporate a variety of entrepreneurial premises into the curriculum, addressing the question: How do we take students from an academic journey where they absorb ideas to one where they nurture and develop new ideas? Adding this important dimension to the existing engineering degree will also engage faculty in other disciplines who can bring additional business and entrepreneurial knowledge to the student experience, particularly the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business.
“The mindset [of the students] is important,” said Kristen “KC” Clark, who works with early state start-up companies. “How do you create resilient entrepreneurs? People handle failure differently based on their backgrounds. And we need more diverse start-up founders.”
The group agreed that even if graduates did not wish to start their own companies right out of the gate, an education that included a business mindset would be beneficial if they, for instance, became early hires in small companies or start-ups or if they wished to build a new project within a large corporation.
“This program will help differentiate our students from the graduates from other programs,” noted Wes Bush, former CEO and chairman of Northrop Grumman who is supporting the task force as a valued mentor and advisor.
“Not all of our student projects are going to become companies, not all of our students are going to immediately become entrepreneurs, but they may do this later in their lives,” said Stavrou. “We want to create an alumni network, like the M.B.A. model, so they can come back and continue to participate in our programs and eventually give back.”
“Yes, you go through the program, you get these services for life,” added Phillip Merrick, co-founder of Stealth Technology Corp.
The task force plans to meet monthly over a six-month period as the Innovation Campus completes the development of an integrated entrepreneurship program.
Members of the task force
- Angelos Stavrou, entrepreneurship faculty lead for the Innovation Campus, is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the founder of Kryptowire, a leader in cloud-based mobile security and privacy solutions.
- Benjamin Barokas, co-founder and CEO of Sourcepoint, the data privacy software company for the digital marketing ecosystem, and founder of Admeld, a preeminent supply-side platform.
- Kristen Clark, founder of Prajna Strategy, an agency that builds and grows startups, and Granate, a mobile app that helps families navigate the aftermath of a loss.
- Gregory Coleman, CEO of Sworkit, retired Air Force colonel, and Defense Department investor who is a hybrid of tech entrepreneur and senior government official.
- Phillip Merrick, co-founder and CEO of Stealth Technology Corp. and previously co-founder and/or CEO of webMethods, EnterpriseDB, SparkPost, and Fugue.
- Kristin Muhlner, CEO of Affect Therapeutics and former CEO of RollStream and NewBrand.
- Jeff Rinehart, partner at City Light Capital who currently sits on the board of directors for Motimatic, Shift One, Brave Care, and Affect Therapeutics.
- Win Sheridan, co-founder of APEX Systems, an information technology staffing and consulting company.